Bengis, Ingrid 1944-
BENGIS, Ingrid 1944-
PERSONAL: Born 1944; married Edouard Palei (retired Russian ballet dancer). Ethnicity: Russian-American.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, North Point Press, 76 Union Square W, New York, NY 10003.
AWARDS, HONORS: Finalist, National Book Award, 1972, for Combat in the Erogenous Zone. Awarded a Fullbright grant to teach at a state university in Russia.
Combat in the Erogenous Zone, Knopf (New York, NY), 1972, reprinted, HarperPerennial (New York, NY), 1991.
I Have Come Here to Be Alone, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1976.
(Editor) Learning from Seattle: What Makes CitiesLivable, Institute for Environmental Action (New York, NY), 1979.
Metro Stop Dostoevsky: Travels in Russian Time, North Point Press (New York, NY), 2003.
SIDELIGHTS: In 1972, Ingrid Bengis won national acclaim as an author and feminist thinker for her autobiographical tract, Combat in the Erogenous Zone. Nominated for the National Book Award, Combat in the Erogenous Zone examines Bengis's life experiences in a male-dominated society, exploring issues of "man-hating," lesbianism, and romantic love. With its analytical and philosophical approach to contemporary topics, Bengis's account stood out among contemporary feminist works for its fresh and original voice. In a review for the Nation Jane Hayman characterized her as neo-romantic: "Bengis, as revealed in these writings, is somewhat of an old-fashioned, romantic heroine; strong, passionate, and feminine, she is like a woman in a novel by [Thomas] Hardy."
Combat in the Erogenous Zone, while recognized as a feminist text, departs from contemporary feminists in its personal approach. As Hayman observed, "In a way, Bengis is something of a anti-[feminist] movement woman since she is nonpolitical and since feminist leaders want to change the conditioning, if that's what it is, that makes women romantic. In another way, however, she is profoundly feminist, or pro-female. . . . She wants women to come into full possession of their powers, those that are female in origin and kind, those that are individual and particular, and those traditionally reserved for the male—freedom of mind and movement, maturity, self-respect." A Choice contributor praised Bengis for asserting "her individuality, refusing to be defined by a movement," and other critics looked favorably on the originality of the work as well.
In 1977, Bengis returned to the literary world with the publication of her first novel, I Have Come Here to Be Alone. Set in Greece, it tells the story of a young woman named Lola who has an affair with a married European man. Lore Dickstein remarked in the New York Times that in contrast to the often angry philosophy of Bengis's first book, "Surprisingly, this new book is an extremely sensuous love story." Noting that a similar story existed within Combat in the Erogenous Zone, Dickstein asserted that "the contrast between the two books is not so marked as one would assume." Dickstein concluded that the book was "an impressive first novel," but it did not enjoy the fame of Bengis's first, more controversial work.
In the ensuing years Bengis took a break from the literary world and procured fish for celebrated chefs, becoming one of the country's most celebrated fishmongers. She returned to writing with the book Metro Stop Dostoevsky: Travels in Russian Time, which explores attitudes and relationships during the tumultuous fall of communism in Russia in 1991. Bengis herself is Russian-American by birth, and in the 1980s she began traveling to her ancestral country to learn more about the culture. Sabrina Tavernise, writing for the New York Times Magazine, discussed the content and inspiration for the book in an interview with the author, "Although much of the story is taken from Bengis's life, she insists it is not autobiography: 'I'm a stand-in. The subject is not me, it's Russia.'" In a separate interview for the BBC News, Bengis emphasized an underlying literary theme in her contemporary account of Russia, pointing out, "Since the title is Metro Stop Dostoevsky, one of the very important elements of the book is that the shadow of Dostoevsky is always here and always hovering."
Critics have praised Bengis's rendering of an often depressing subject. As Tavernise observed, "The relationship between the two women [protagonists] ends in betrayal, a sign of a cynical society abroad." Writing in the New York Times, Michael Pye acknowledged that "Bengis has a sharp eye for how people go on living in chaos, and also how someone from orderly Maine can't quite grasp what is going to happen when the state's own sense of order lets go." As a contributor to Kirkus Reviews noted, however, there is an optimistic aspect to the novel despite its events: "Bengis finds deep wounds and much suffering but an intact soul, true to the Russian proverb that 'hope dies last.'"
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, June 1, 2003, Kristine Huntley, review of Metro Stop Dostoevsky: Travels in Russian Time, p. 1731.
Bookworld, November 26, 1972, Michael Halberstam, "Female Complaints," review of Combat in the Erogenous Zone, p. 13.
Choice, May, 1973, review of Combat in the Erogenous Zone, p. 538.
Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 1976, review of I HaveCome Here to Be Alone, p. 1181; April 1, 2003, review of Metro Stop Dostoevsky, p. 516.
Library Journal, April 15, 2003, review of Metro StopDostoevsky, p. 85.
Nation, November 12, 1973, Jane Hayman, review of Combat in the Erogenous Zone, pp. 506-508.
National Review, February 16, 1973, E. B. Meyer, review of Combat in the Erogenous Zone, p. 225.
New Leader, March 14, 1977, Hope Hale Davis, review of I Have Come Here to Be Alone, p. 15.
New York Times, January 30, 1977, Lore Dickstein, review of I Have Come Here to Be Alone, 4; June 1, 2003, Michael Pye, review of Metro Stop Dostoevsky, p. 8.
New York Times Magazine, May 11, 2003, Sabrina Tavernise, interview with the author, pp. 20, 22.
Publishers Weekly, January 9, 1978, review of I HaveCome Here to be Alone, p. 80; April 28, 2003, review of Metro Stop Dostoevsky, p. 62.
BBC News,http://www.news.bbc.co.uk/ (August 4, 2003), interview with the author.*